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The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief

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Reckless Truth Teller

How Did I Get Here?

A Wondering Widow Post

It’s surreal. How did I get here? How can it possibly have been a whole year? How can it have been 365 days since that horrible morning when I watched Dan die? How have I survived 8760 hours of being broken wide open? Shattered? How can 525,600 minutes have passed without him in a single one? It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem right.

And yet here we are, at his one-year deathiversary. I know some people hate that word. No judgment here if you are one of those who prefers angelversary. While I do like to look for the positive in every situation, I also refuse to sugar coat a turd. To-may-to, to-mah-to, we all cope in our own way. But I digress.

The last year has been a journey that often left me feeling like a refugee from my own life. I have at times been appalled at things people have said or done. I have also been overwhelmed with gratitude at the kindness of strangers. And I have fallen more deeply in love with my friends and family for whom I am incredibly blessed. Not only did they walk this path beside me, I’ve lost count of how many times they picked me up and carried me. And, truthfully, sometimes those brave souls had to drag me along kicking and screaming.

The old me died that day when Dan took his last breath. That was also the day I was reborn, like the phoenix rising from the ashes. In the last year, I’ve had to figure out who I am in this new reality. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the new Lisa. And you know what?  I kinda like her.

  • The new me has ninja level survivor bada$$ery. I’m stronger than I ever dreamed possible.  My proof? Laughter.  I can still laugh, even through the tears. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a Lt. Dan crazy kinda laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Even after nights like last night where I was a f@#$%&g bawling train wreck.
  • The new me is brave. Mostly.  I kept breathing when I didn’t want to. When I was too afraid to think about the future, I kept putting one foot in front of the other anyway. I may not have always looked up from my feet but persisted in the direction of the unknown. I now recognize that asking for help and being vulnerable are where real courage lies. If you knew the old Lisa, you’d know how significant this is. 
  • The new me pursues happiness and joy with abandon and without apology. 
  • Life is too short to put up with bull$hit. The new me has learned to walk away, purge, move on, forgive, and not look back.
  • I’m keeping it real. The new me is a card carrying member of the reckless truth teller club. Authentic has become one of those business buzzwords, but that doesn’t take the power out of our truths. To wrap my brain around my own grief, I share and hopefully help others in the process. No more carefully curated social media presence, no more worrying about what other people think. This girl DGAF about pretense. Like it? Great. Don’t like it? Reference previous “life is too short to put up with bull$shit” and move along. (Dan, inventor of DGAF, would be both proud and horrified).
  • The new me is obsessively grateful. I recognize that every second we are on this earth is a gift. No more sweatin’ the small stuff. No more 60 hour work weeks. No more waiting. No more I’ll call them later. It’s all about living now, loving now, laughing now and making sure those we love know how valued they are. 

To those of you who pop in to read my story, thank you. Thanks for showing up to bear witness to all the ugly and beautiful bits of my grief journey.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow

Ommmmmmm

A Grief Recovery Project Post

Of all the things I tried for The Grief Recovery Project, meditation was the hardest. I tried a bunch of different things…Buddhify and Calm (both apps), YouTube videos, pretty much anything that wasn’t a class. I quickly learned meditation worked really great at one thing…making me fall asleep. Meditation became synonymous with napping. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Ben, my hypnotherapist, told me about a study that showed how meditation helped those with PTSD and depression. In this study brain scans were done on the participants at the start and end of an eight-week meditation challenge. The scans revealed that the hippocampus was undersized at the start of the eight weeks. After eight weeks of daily meditation, scans were done again which revealed a normal sized hippocampus. Cool. You know me and science, so of course, I wanted some pretty pictures of my hippocampus. Since you can’t just walk into a lab and get some taken, I had to go on faith and my meditation journal.

Since I kept falling asleep, Ben encouraged me to be sitting up during meditation. That made my back hurt and I couldn’t find my zen. A friend gave me a tip about sitting upright on a cushion with my tailbone against the wall to cut down on the back pain. That helped a lot, but I was still easily distracted…breathe in, breathe out, grocery list, bills to pay, what flowers to plant, shiny thing, shiny thing, shiny thing. I took a tip from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart and would recognize that I was distracted and let whatever that thought was float away with the exhale. Everything was about focusing on the breath, being mindful of my breathing.

Photo credit to CNSforum.com

So did it work? Om, yeah it did. I still get the fidgets. I still get distracted by random thoughts. But after eight weeks of daily meditation, I found it is easier to step out of emotionally charged moments and just breathe. If I skip a day I feel it. The days I meditate I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I also deal with the grief related social anxiety better, which is the whole reason I went to see my hypnotherapist in the first place.

Oh, and if you know where I can get a hippocampus scan let me know.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

Letter to my 25 year old self

A Wondering Widow Post

Dear Lisa,

It’s 20 years from now, and amazing things are about to happen in your life.  I wish I could spare you the heartbreak and pain ahead, but can truthfully say it will forge you into a better you. And while it won’t feel like it, you will survive.  Here are some words of wisdom I wish you could hear:

1. Your goal to retire at 45 WILL happen, but you will pay an unbelievably horrible price to achieve it.  Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

2. Forever isn’t linear, it’s now. Forever is in every tiny moment. Don’t waste a single one. Stop working so damned much and invest those tiny moments in those you love and those that love you. Memories will always be worth more than things (trust me, at this exact moment you are selling everything you own). Take that trip. Take the class. Take a chance on love. Take the risk of living outside the plan, and outside what is expected of you. Sometimes happiness lies on the other side of playing it safe.

3. You have no control over anything but your attitude. I know your inner control freak won’t believe me until the universe decides it’s a lesson you WILL learn, and it will be in the hardest way possible.  It’s okay. It will be okay.

4. You are f@#$%^g awesome. I know you will spend years feeling insecure and not enough. You will hide those fears and lack of confidence in a hard shell that does you no favors.  Don’t be afraid. Believe in yourself. You are stronger than you could possibly know. 

5. It’s taken me our whole life for me to learn to love me.  Love you for you, and don’t wait so damned long to do it. 

XOXO,

Future You,  aka The Wandering Widow

You’re Getting Very Sleepy

A Grief Recovery Project Post

You’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While many people do indeed experience those emotional stages, they sure as hell aren’t linear.


I told you I would try anything in the Grief Recovery Project, and Hypnotherapy was a surprise hit. I’d only ever seen it in comedy routines or cop dramas on TV. It’s nothing like that. The best way I can describe it is a very deep guided meditation and you are in a very relaxed state. You are awake and aware the entire time, so the only way you can end up quacking like a duck is if you really want to end up quacking like a duck. Like anything on the GRP list, it helps to be open to the experience. I was VERY skeptical as I met with my hypnotherapist the first time, but he came highly recommended by someone I trust and I was desperate to speed up my recovery process.

One of the reasons I went to see Ben was the intense social anxiety that showed up after Dan died. Remember, social anxiety is super common with grief, especially in the months immediately following the loss of your spouse. I would have full blown panic attacks at the thought of going out to see my friends. If I managed to get dressed to go to work, I’d sit in my car hyperventilating til I almost blacked out. I wrote at least a dozen resignation letters for a job I love because the pressure was too great. I “opted out” of the holidays because the thought of being with that many people, even the family kind of people, made me want to vomit. I was being held hostage by my grief. Ben helped me work through the social anxiety very quickly, and in the process uncovered some other issues that were contributing to my general state of post-Dan cray-cray.  


Remember when my grief counselor said that to work through it, I’d have to feel the feelings? Apparently I’d drawn the line for some of those feelings. In my very first hypnotherapy session we uncovered my anger. Up until that day, I would have told you that I wasn’t angry and that maybe I’d skipped that step. That was a convenient lie I told myself. I was angry. So, so angry. But I’d repressed it…that kind of rage isn’t ladylike, and showing it was definitely not accepted in my Asian culture. I also had some really big conflicting emotions since I was raised in a conservative Christian household and the person I was most angry with was God. So @#$%^&* angry at God. And Dan for leaving me. And my Dad for not being there to advise me through this. And Mom for being unavailable to mother me due to her own grief. And the world for not understanding me. And myself. So f@#$%^  angry at myself. I’m a fixer. There is no problem I can’t solve. And now when it mattered most, I had failed to solve two big ones back to back. I couldn’t save my Dad. And no matter what I did I couldn’t save Dan. No wonder I was struggling with anxiety–I HATED both God and myself and felt guilty about it. Angry at the divine and the divine within. Damn.  

Once I acknowledged the anger I was able to move forward with forgiveness. If you hate Frozen, I’m sorry, but I had to Let It Go. Forgiving was hard. I forgave God for all the suffering he rained down on my family and for killing the two men I loved most in the world. I forgave my family and friends for not understanding me or for disappearing after the funeral. I forgave the person who kept manipulating me to get more money. I forgave everyone. It took a long time but, eventually, I even forgave myself. 

So did hypnotherapy work? I’d say so. In combination with my grief counseling and Reiki, I was able to move through things a lot faster. Hypnotherapy helped me bring down my self-constructed barriers to get to the root of the problem, and I’m glad I tried it. And no, I’m not getting sleepy. If anything, I’m more awake than ever before.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. I lucked out with a great personal referral, but if you’re interested in trying it visit the National Board For Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists to research hypnotherapists in your area.

Reiki Me

A Grief Recovery Project Post

So far I’ve explored grief counseling, acupuncture, and massage therapy as part of the Grief Recovery Project. Now we’re on to Reiki as a treatment for grief recovery.

Reiki was the wildcard for me since I’d never tried it before. According to Reiki.org, Reiki is a Japanese practice based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. Yep, now we’re on to Japanese voodoo magic.

I’d heard about it a few years ago from Karl and Angela Robb, Reiki Masters and fellow Parkinson’s advocates. Their research showed that Reiki could help with Parkinson’s symptoms. Color me intrigued, but I didn’t know anyone locally and had some doubts– voodoo magic and all. That changed when hospice sent a Reiki master to help Dan. I got to observe the whole thing. I don’t know what exactly happened as he was working on Dan’s energy, but I watched Dan’s breathing visibly soften and the muscles in his face relax. All without any real physical touch. Dan was already in a coma at this point, so there was no way he was influencing the results. Nikola Tesla had lots to say about energy, and he was one of the smartest people that ever lived. Don’t knock it til you try it.

So I tried it. Each session lasts about an hour. All the Reiki practitioners I’ve met are very normal (whatever that means) people, so if you’re expecting some purple robed or kimono wearing hippie you’re likely to be very disappointed. Reiki studios are a lot like a massage studio, the lights are dimmed for your relaxation and spa music may be playing for the same reason, but it’s clean and modern. Cost for a reiki session is comparable to a massage but may vary depending on the experience of the Reiki practitioner and your location. Every session I’ve had is different but I know I feel like I’ve gained ground after each one. Notice that I didn’t say I feel better, because that’s not always the case, although I never feel worse. It’s more like I skip ahead a few steps on the grief journey without actually moving. Whether that means releasing bad energy like sadness, fear, or anger, or taking on better energy, it has worked wonders for me, helping me feel more relaxed and less anxious.


Just like finding a good acupuncturist or massage therapist, get a referral to a good Reiki practitioner. I lucked out and found Kristin Harwood of In Transition Wellness here in Boise.  This is what she has to has to say about Reiki and grief recovery.

When a person experiences a traumatic or stressful experience, their emotions can be stored in the body creating blocks and disrupting their natural flow of energy. If not dealt with, these emotions can build up over time and start expressing themselves in a physical, emotional or energetic way, affecting our daily lives.

Grief and acceptance operate on their own timetable and people need time to reach a place of peace and acceptance. Reiki and similar healing practices can offer a compassionate and caring approach to assist others in their return to wholeness in body, mind and spirit with grace and gentleness.

Reiki can help those who have lost a loved one, reignite their relationship with themselves and sense of purpose, helping them to regain their sense of personal power. It also helps people manage and release emotions that may feel overwhelming, such as anger, sadness, helplessness and grief. It can help strengthen a person’s resilience and ability to deal with situations and emotions which may feel overwhelming. A peaceful, compassionate environment and a respectful Reiki practitioner can create a place of quiet comfort where grief and sadness can come to rest and release as needed without words or expectations, if that’s preferred.

Have you tried Reiki as part of your grief recovery? I’d love to hear about it. 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

After thought for friends and family: If you want to help and are looking for something different than another casserole, just like acupuncture and massage therapy, you can gift Reiki sessions to your W.  

No disrespect to casseroles or their makers. 

Surprise! Grief Hurts.

A Grief Recovery Project Post

One of the things most people don’t realize about grief is that it hurts. Physically. According to Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath, feelings of emptiness in your stomach, tightness in your throat or chest, digestive problems, sensitivity to noise, heart palpitations, queasiness, nausea, headaches, increased allergy symptoms, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, agitation, and generalized tension are all ways your body may react to losses that you encounter in life. I’m not a huge fan of pharmaceuticals for pain relief so tried other things that did help, including acupuncture and massage therapy. All stuff Dan would call Chinese voodoo magic. All stuff he ended up trying and benefitting from. Since this is a GRP post, I’ll do my best to describe them for you.

Acupuncture was something I’d heard about growing up in an Asian family but had never tried for myself. It’s an ancient Chinese discipline that uses fine needles (think as fine as a strand of hair) to clear our energy channels and help them get flowing correctly. I went for the first time to get some pain relief after a car accident a few years ago and I fell in love with my acupuncturist. She is nurturing and kind and also a researcher! Science + Chinese voodoo magic?!? Now you’re speaking my language! Each session lasts about an hour, and you’ll probably need at least three sessions to see some progress, although I felt better instantly. After needles are in you get to chill out and relax for a bit. The first visit you may leave feeling a little high or euphoric, so be sure you don’t have to go back to work. The needles are small and don’t usually hurt. If they do, let your acupuncturist know so they can switch to an even smaller needle. 

Even though the needles are very small, some people are just flat out nervous about trying them. Remember how I told you my acupuncturist also does research? Well, she did a cool research project using laser acupuncture on Dan and actually wrote about the experience. Here is a link: https://www.miridiatech.com/news/2016/04/aah-relief-from-cancer-pain/ 


Kimberly made house calls when it became too much for him to travel to her office. And on that last morning she was there with us to help bring him relief as he let go from the pain. She was holding his hand and had just put in the first needle when he left us. That’s a story for her to tell but I choose to believe it helped him make that final leap. 

Side note: none of us there that morning have ever spoken to each other about what we witnessed.  


Kimberly also recommended massage therapy as part of my Grief Recovery Project. She didn’t have to tell me twice! Think about how many times a day you touch your spouse and then imagine that gone in an instant. Sensory deprivation is a real thing. Massage therapy was helpful not just for the physical touch but also to help with circulation and pain relief. To be pampered and nurtured through massage therapy is something I’d recommend for anyone in grief recovery. If you’ve never had a massage, sign up for one right now, I’ll wait. Don’t know a massage therapist? Ask around for referrals from people you trust. Reputable therapists maintain an office, keep up with training and certifications, and (in some states) are licensed. If there are bars on the windows or no one there speaks English, you are in the wrong kind of massage place.

Have you tried acupuncture or massage therapy as part of your grief recovery project? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. Our family was blessed by people who wanted to help. One of my friends heard how acupuncture was blessing our lives and worked out a system with our acupuncturist for people to donate acupuncture visits. She explained how it helped with the pain and the hard emotions we were going through. She then posted a link and a phone number to our acupuncturist. If you have a W you’d like to help, this could be a great way to do it.

Muscle Memory

A Grief Recovery Project Post 

I promised you the good, the bad and the ugly in the interest of shining a light on the ugly underbelly of the grief no one wants to talk about.  And this is ugly. Most of my posts show up months after the fact, giving me time to process through things. This one is in real time, and it’s messy. Sometimes you can see a grief storm headed your way and you can hunker down and wait it out.  Other times, it’s a Category 10 Hurricane, and you have to take steps to keep from being destroyed.  Brace yourself, the mother of all storms is coming.

I can feel the winds changing. I’ve been in a really good place. Really freaking good.  And happy, with my eyes on the future. There are still sad days, but those days don’t steal the light from the sky. I can be both happy and sad at the same time and still feel okay. At least I could until about a week ago.  Something was different.  Off.  Like a storm that blows in from multiple directions, I was being buffeted by multiple emotions at the same time. After a week of wondering where this PMS on steroids was coming from I looked at the calendar and realized what it was, and that it was only going to get worse. In less than a month we’ll hit the one-year deathiversary milestone.

My grief counselor describes it as muscle memory. The closer we get to THAT DATE, the more my body and emotions revert back to a year ago. Great.  I can’t  have muscle memory on leg day at the gym, but my brain sends me back in time to the worst period of my life?!?! Fanfreakingtastic. My blood pressure skyrockets and adrenaline floods my system. The nightmares have returned. I’m losing sleep because I’m back to waking up every day around 4 am to give him meds. WTF?!  I don’t have time for this. I’m back to work full time. I’m back to life full time. I’m putting on a memorial golf tournament in a week! I don’t have time for the grief monsters to come back.

Although it’s not like they ask for permission or anything. The crying never really stopped, although it did slow down. But now I’m angry, which is new. Marshawn Lynch can keep Beast Mode, right now I own Bitch Mode (or it owns me), and that’s way scarier.  And it’s more than anger, it’s rage. It feels like my skin doesn’t fit right and I’m looking for a fight in every corner. And not just a verbal smackdown, I’m ready to gorilla stomp anyone who pushes the right buttons.  Kinda scary for someone who abhors violence. (Hmm it might be a good time to get back to my kickboxing class and work some of this out safely).

So how do I control the uncontrollable?  I can’t, which appears to be the lesson the universe really wants me to get through my thick skull. How do I get through the hurricane without taking everyone with me? I have no idea. I’m doing the best I can to batten down the hatches and face the storm head on.

First, I gave myself permission to be a mess for awhile. Kinda required when you are sobbing on the floor to the point you scare the dog.  Second, I acknowledged that it was okay to feel the feelings and get through them, even when that means something as yucky and distasteful as rage. I rallied my GRP support team and stacked my calendar with massage, acupuncture, grief counseling, hypnotherapy and Reiki appointments to help me get me through it. And with my friends and family holding on to me for dear life, I’m turning to face the storm head on.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

BTW if you see me coming and I look like I’m in Hulk Smash mode, you may want to retreat. I promise I’m doing the best I can, and hoping July 11th dawns with sunny blue skies and this storm rapidly fading in the distance.

That Scene in Wonder Woman (Spoiler Alert!)

If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning to, stop reading right now. And get your freaking ticket ASAP, this movie is AWESOME. I loved being able to see it with three generations of the wonder women in my family.  It’s about dang time we get to see such a strong female lead, and DC sure threw down the gauntlet for Marvel.  But that’s not what this post is about.

While I left the theater wanting to a get a sword and fight bad guys and stuff, I was also reeling.

I couldn’t find a single image of the scene that kicked my ass. Interesting. Guess grief really is that hard to look at.

Dan was a soldier.  A regular American bad ass defender of freedom, protector of others, and fighter of dangerous people. AATW!  So when Steve made his heroic choice, it wasn’t really a decision. It was his only option. To have taken any other action would have meant betraying who he was at his core. I was a military wife for a lot of years, so that scene didn’t really hurt me as much as sadden me. It is a movie, after all.

It was Diana’s reaction that brought me to my knees.  Her grief was palpable, painful, raw, and perfectly captured by both the director and the actor. And it mirrored the intensity of my own grief.  I’ve come a long way in the last year, but that scene stole the air from my lungs. Literally.  I felt my pulse shoot up and the hyperventilating start and knew a PTSD anxiety attack was not far behind.  Bearing witness to her grief ripped open the healing scars on my heart. Had I been prepared that it was coming, it may not have been quite as overwhelming.  Or it may have been just as bad. Who knows. Honestly, just thinking about that scene weeks later still raises my blood pressure. I was so thankful for the powerful ass-kicking fight scene that followed because it was the distraction I needed to regain control of my lungs.

What few W’s want to acknowledge is that her grief, our grief, is a catalyst for the transformation into someone stronger.  Someone MORE despite the loss. Someone who can value both the best and worst in others. Someone who doesn’t give up. Someone who will mourn for their rest of their life, but who keeps living in spite of it. While I don’t have lightning shooting out of my hands (too bad, I can think of a few occasions where that would be handy), I will battle my grief until the end.

So yeah, I’m not saying I’m Wonder Woman, but WW also stands for Wandering Widow, and you’ve never seen us in the same room.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

Words

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion,  our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”               

Albus Dumbledore

Words are powerful. They represent culture, belief, and identity. Words can build and destroy. Their power is why governments ban books and silence truth tellers, and why we sometimes revere writers who wield the words that give us hope. 

I can remember the first time someone referred to me as a widow. It was only a few days after Dan died and I was horrified. It was a gut punch. How dare they say that about me? How dare they say that to me? I wouldn’t even use the word. Hearing it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. That word meant Dan was gone. It meant I was alone. It meant I was married to a ghost. It meant my universe had imploded.

In the last year I have become more comfortable with the word widow. Well, maybe comfortable isn’t the right word, but it doesn’t make me cry to hear it or use it. Now I use it as a shield…one word that explains my story without my having to go into detail. Throwing widow into a conversation is like deflecting bullets off Wonder Woman’s bracelets. Kapow! Insert new topic or awkward silence. And sometimes I’m a bit snarky about it. Apologies to anyone who has been on the receiving end of that.

I recently referred to myself as “single” for the first time. Not a married to a dead guy widow, but single as in unattached. As soon as the word left my mouth I was stunned into silence (which my friends and family will assure you almost never happens). It just kind of hung in the air in a cartoon bubble. What does that mean? What does it mean that I just voluntarily described myself as single? Does it have to mean anything? Hell yeah it does. I just haven’t decided what. 

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